The Function of One Piece of Music: Song of Solomon
As one African American writer, Toni Morrison applies African culture in her writings as other black writers do. She talks about important issues in African American society by connecting folktales, myths and cultural beliefs with various characters as well as incorporating African folk in her stories. As a kind of representation of traditional black art, music records history, culture and feelings of people. Musical factors can be found in her novel Song of Solomon, which is also the name of one specific piece of music running through that whole novel. Its pronunciation is similar to solo-man, implying it is in memory of a man who achieves a goal independently. This particular song functions in two ways: on the one hand, it reflects black community’s features; on the other hand, it marks the growth of Milkman.
Song of Solomon first appears the day before Milkman’s birth when Mr. Robert Smith, an agent of an insurance company is planning to fly from the roof of a building. Standing at the back of the crowd with eyes fixed on Mr. Robert Smith, Pilate sings in a powerful contralto:
“O Sugarman done fly away/ Sugarman done gone/ Sugarman cut across the sky/ Sugarman gone home…” (6). The tragic history of black people is hidden behind the appellation of “sugarman”: during the African slave trade, black people were sold to America to exchange for sugar, tobacco and liquor. Actually, sugarman is another name for slave. Here Toni Morrison uses this song to describe the miserable sufferings of black people in past centuries. Besides, the song from Pilate not only makes this suicidal flying more bleak, but also is the profession of Mr. Smith’s current situation: he escapes from reality by “flying away” because of endless hate from heart. As a member of Seven Days, Mr. Robert Smith cannot withdraw from the organization and cannot stop their reprisal killings of white people unless he dies. In American society which is full of racism, black people can either accept the reality or fight against it, and Robert chooses the latter by joining Seven Days. Then he gradually realizes that living among ceaseless revenge and killings, he has been controlled by cruelty and has become the slave of endless hate. Trapped by this dilemma, in order to cast off “slavery” from his own community he decides to believe the legend from ancestors: black people can fly. Consequently, he commits suicide. Mr. Robert Smith represents many African Americans who are not enslaved physically but spiritually. Pilate sings the song again after Mr. Robert Smith flies from the roof but eliminates the last two sentences “Sugarman cut across the sky/ Sugarman gone home” (9), implying the failure of his flying and enhancing the atmosphere of death without the briskness of sky and happiness of going back home. The fact that Robert chases for freedom at the expense of life is quite solemn and stirring; it shows that the pursuit for the free...